Andrew Hurley: Rebel With A Cause

andrew hurley

Photo: Eddie Malluk

Chilling in a Philadelphia hotel room just two days after Barack Obama sailed into the White House, Andrew Hurley is talking a blue streak. It’s an hour before sound check at the North Star Bar, but instead of his usual warm-up exercises, everyone’s favorite vegan anarchist drummer is on his soapbox – something about Obama’s victory being more important than JFK.

The political stakes were so important to Fall Out Boy that new album Folie À Deux was slated for an election-day release. That never happened, but Hurley doesn’t regret moving back the street date to mid-December – although it sure bummed out fans.

“It started to feel gimmicky, and then in interviews the reason for it started to get lost,” says the native Milwaukeean, looking as chicly radical as Trotsky. “Being a band that tours internationally, you really see how our foreign policy affects the rest of the world. You go to other countries and see they’re in an economic crisis, and it’s because of us. A lot of reasons make it a really important election, so I think we just wanted to get out of the way.”

Beat Surrender

So why are the kings of tween-pop making political statements anyway? Au contraire mon frère, these upper middle-class suburbanites have never gotten credit for the level of sophistication in their hit making, courtesy of vocalist/guitarist Patrick Stump’s Beatles-caliber songwriting, and, especially, bassist Pete Wentz’s splashy oh-so-quotable lyrics characterized by razor-sharp double entendres. What’s the 21st century approximation of Lennon and McCartney to do?

If Folie À Deux is any indication, it means flipping the script. Take first single “I Don’t Care,” a swaggery blues number that might be White Stripes or Black Keys if those bands cared about production values. “That was the point,” Hurley says. “Putting out something that’s different for us but still has all the elements that make it us. The last record was kind of a lot more R&B-ish but then this record has a lot more rock to it.”

Another way of looking at Folie’s tonal shift, at least in drumming terms, is that Hurley is playing on top, almost racing the beats as opposed to that hip-hop behind-the-beat style. Hurley is no drum nerd, though he makes plain his enthusiasm for the record as a whole: “It’s a lot of fun to play.”

The first single’s adrenalized pummeling soon gives way to straight-up Stubblefield funk on “She’s My Winona.” “That song has a drum set that’s different in the verse than in the chorus – that part was actually kind of hard to play. It was hard to keep up because I was playing it over and just, you know, getting it to sound good with the dynamics within it because it has a lot of ghost notes.”

Despite the rock orientation, two of rap’s biggest superstar/producers make appearances on Folie in addition to six or seven other guests – a nod to hip-hop’s cameo-obsessed album architecture. To be honest, Lil’ Wayne’s presence on “Tiffany Blews” is scarcely felt next to the way Neptunes/N.E.R.D. honcho Pharell Williams puts his stamp on “W.A.M.S,” which single-pedal-user Hurley closes out with a wicked blastbeat. “He was really cool and really down to Earth and one of the nicest dudes and just a musical genius,” Hurley gushes. “His hooks, a lot of the time, are rhythm-based.”

A close second for Hurley in terms of drumming pleasure is “20 Dollar Nosebleed” with its rimclick lick, a Hurley signature, only here more complex. “That song has some stuff I really love. Real Jackson 5-type fills.”

For “West Coast Smoker,” Blondie’s Deborah Harry adds her inimitable voice, and the guys were geeked even if they didn’t get to work with her in person. “I wish,” he says. “That would have been awesome, but no. It was all done at different studios. [Harry] was into it, we just sent her the track and she just added to it.

“Same with Elvis Costello [“What A Catch, Donnie”],” he continues. “I know for Patrick, Elvis Costello is his absolute hero, that would have been awesome to actually do it with him but he was kind of rushed. He had some lung sickness. It was hard for him to sing but he did it and it turned out really good.”

Bum-Rushing The Process

The frantic daring-do of the latest Fall Out Boy can be directly traced to Hurley not having the parts mapped out in his head before entering the studio. Normally the band has two weeks of preproduction to whip the tunes into recordable shape, but this time they dove right in. “You could go in and spend six months if you wanted to, but I think you lose a lot of the impulse and a lot of the things that just come to you because you can sit on it too long.”

The only thing recognizably Fall Out Boy-like about Folie is the too-clever-by-half song titles. Otherwise, the stylistic variety makes previous albums look same-y, and that’s especially true of the drum parts.

“I think it just went with the songs more,” he says. “The approach on this record from my end was Patrick and I worked a lot more together on fitting the rhythms with the songs, because this album, I know he wrote more to the lyrics – to complement and carry the lyrics – and I always [talk] with him. We split up into twos and so I always hear his answers to how he wrote.”

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For example, the verse in “West Coast Smoker” that goes ’… Knock three times …” is followed by three snare hits, a trick that Hurley knew Stump would dig because it references one of the singer’s favorite Ray Charles songs. “That’s actually something that someone could listen to the album a hundred times and never hear unless they were looking for it, like one of those Beach Boys Pet Sounds things. Unless you listen to the album with headphones you don’t hear these little subtle things that I’ve thrown in there.”

And if you don’t notice these little twists, Hurley won’t be offended. “I did that with a Metallica song the other day. I just remember hearing it and going, ’I’ve been listening to this record since I was nine and I’ve never heard this.’ I love these records that have flavors that present themselves down the line.”

The Fifth Element

Fall Out Boy did the indie-to—major-label transition seamlessly and passed the sophomore slump phase of their career with flying colors. It’s natural that their fourth album should be their Sgt. Pepper’s, the one where they swing for the fences. Interestingly, the band stuck with longtime producer Neal Avron instead of getting a new personality to shepherd the process. It makes you wonder how they were able to step outside their comfort zone.

“Neal is just like the fifth member, kind of like George Martin for The Beatles or Nigel Godrich with Radiohead,” explains Hurley. “Different people have that, and Neal’s just kind of a member of the family. Neal really understands where we’re coming from and he’s just grown with us. When we come with songs that sound like the last record he’s kind of like, ’Eh, this is good, but I think you could push it.’

“At the same time there is a level of comfort that really works well. We can just go in the studio and magic happens because we just work so well together.”

Drummers will be delighted that Hurley isn’t larding as many of the tracks with Garage Band beats as he has in the past. In fact, the ones on Infinity On High and From Under The Cork Tree are crappy template beats left over from Stump’s demos in the early composition stages. The preponderance of live drums this time around is Avron’s influence at work.

“He hates triggering; he hates over-editing,” Hurley says. “So for him I never punch, I do full takes. And we record to tape for drums, which I love. I think Pro Tools for everything else is fine because there’s not a lot of difference that you can hear, but, you know, as an engineer, he really thinks that there is an audible thing [in tape to Pro Tools].

“I’ll do a song six, seven times, even if I played it perfectly the first time, just to have full takes, because he hates [splicing together drum parts], and I agree – it just sounds more natural. And when you get the actual player playing it the full way through, there’s an energy there that you can’t punch in and edit in.

“I think he, like Patrick, really does understand rhythm. He can hear when things go against each other, so he definitely helps with that. He does a lot of setups, like every song we go through different bass drums, different snares, to kind of really get the right tone for the song, which I like too. Some people I’ve recorded with, it’s just a race to get through it. But lately I tend to blaze through too. I can track pretty fast these days.”

Calling It Out

Okay, time to put the cards on the table. We’re cornering Hurley and forcing him to define what sort of drummer he is. It’s a maneuver that finds the normally voluble speaker somewhat tongue-tied. “Aw, man, that’s tough. Relative to other players, you mean?” What follows is an excruciatingly long pause, until Hurley is able to crystallize his thoughts. “I strive to be a really solid drummer.”

Nice smokescreen, Holmes. Solid as in consistent or as in a heavy-hitter? “Well, both. Live I definitely try to hit heavy, and in the studio I definitely play really hard. I could definitely say I’m an energetic drummer – tons of people tell me I look like Animal [from The Muppet Show] when we play live, but technique-wise, I came from marching band in high school. Very rudimentary. And when I practice that’s what I work on. And I guess that’s it: I’m a very rudimental drummer. I like consistency in drumming. I like the choruses to be the same every time.”

Worried about coming off like a finicky instructor, Hurley quickly adds: “I love players like the Mastodon drummer [Brann Dailor], who’s filling the whole time, but that’s not what I’ve ever done.”

There’s plenty of heavy hitting throughout the entire FOB discography: tom-thudding galore, crash-bashing workouts, and muscular down strokes. Still, it’s not enough for the tireless Hurley, which is why he has no less than three side projects back home in Wisconsin, including the metal-oriented Departed.

The nice thing for detail-oriented FOB fans is they can expect to hear different parts live than what’s played on record. “I always wonder if they can tell,” he muses. “I’ll play a little fill that’s not on the record and think to myself, ’Did anyone get that?’”

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Dancing With Paparazzi

There is simply no avoiding the eyeliner-wearing fashion plate in the proverbial room. That’s what happens when the gossip rags cover bassist Wentz and Ashlee Simpson’s every trip to Starbucks. Is it distracting for the other members of Fall Out Boy that the bassist increasingly takes on his own media-fueled identity outside of the band?

“Not really,” says Hurley, nonchalantly. “It’s not something he’s going out and seeking. I don’t think when he fell in love and married Ashlee Simpson he was doing it for any other reason than he actually loves and cares about her. It just happens that this is what comes with it.

andrew hurley

Hurley’s Setup

Drums C&C
1 24" x 16" Bass Drum
2 14" x 6.5" Snare Drum
3 13" x 9" Tom
4 16" x 16" Floor Tom

Cymbals Sabian
A 14" AAX X-Celertaor Hi-Hats
B 18" AAX Bright Crash
C 21" HH Raw Bell Ride
D 19" AAX X-Plosion Crash

Electronics Roland
E Trigger Pad

Andrew Hurley also uses DW hardware, Vic Firth sticks, Remo drumheads, and Shure microphones.

“But, you know, I’ve been friends with him since I was 16, so I know him and I know who he is and I know that he hasn’t changed and that the way he’s presented in magazines isn’t really who he is. The context they frame him in isn’t who he is. Sometimes they get it right. Not often. Pete does a great job of deflecting it. Now when we do group interviews he doesn’t really talk.”

So far, the strategy has been a success, forcing journalists to talk to bandmembers not featured in Us Weekly. “And that’s not what matters to me anyway,” he continues. “I’m in this band to make music. I like the fact that I can be home in Milwaukee and go out and no one cares. I don’t want that attention.”

It’s what you’d expect the introspective Hurley to say, but Milwaukee? The Ringo of pop-punk chooses to live in one of the country’s coldest cities known for its shuttered breweries and Jeffrey Dahmer?

Dude!

Hurley is slightly annoyed at this clueless characterization of his hometown. It turns out the Cheese State’s biggest city, which once elected a socialist mayor, could not be a better spot for this Marx-reading drummer. Liberal paradise that Milwaukee is, Hurley doesn’t get much time to enjoy it, spending most of the year going through the showbiz meat grinder.

That means facing the lopsided glare of the press every time the band is back on the road, so you might say “I Don’t Care” is the band’s flippant response. The chorus, “I don’t care what you think as long as it’s about me/The rest of us can find happiness in misery,” is one of those Wentzian zingers that will infuriatingly take up residence in your head for days. If the celeb-dating lyricist is declaring certain topics off limits in interviews, he’s saving it all for the songs.

“It’s kind of just a statement on pop culture and culture in general,” says Hurley. “It kind of goes back to the title of the record, Folie À Deux, which is the shared madness of two. It’s kind of like the relationship between the tabloids and Britney Spears, let’s say, or the candidates and the voters – any relationship between two entities.”

The track perfectly illustrates Wentz’ ability to write from different viewpoints and to leave interpretation open-ended – the perfect canvass onto which people can project their own neuroses.

Hurley’s interpretation is more bleak: “This is kind of the anthem to how pop culture is getting – people just don’t care about anything unless it directly affects them.”

D’oh! ... If nothing else, Fall Out Boy are savvy pop-culture interpreters. They’re so damn savvy they’re able to skewer it even as they participate directly in its manufacture. From having their own clothing lines to dating starlets, it’s the kind of two-step that could bite them in the ass some day. Hell, it almost did, like the time they narrowly dodged Simpsons creator Matt Groening slapping a cease-and-desist on them for taking their name from one of his characters.

“The [show’s] producers made a T-shirt with the original Fall Out Boy, Millhouse, and thought we were going to do something legal to them,” Hurley laughs. “And when we found out, we were like, ’No, we thought you were going to do something.’ I think Matt [Groening] made an off-handed remark like, ’Any band that has a Simpsons name I’m into and could be on the show.’ It hasn’t happened yet.”

Unfortunately, Hurley has bigger worries, like the future of life on this planet as we know it. Obama signals a new era, but anarchists are suspicious of any polity, no matter how good the intentions. “Republican or Democrat, it’s all the same – I think civilization is the problem,” he reasons. “I don’t think humans were supposed to form groups teetering on 7 billion people, and a one-world economy, and one-world system … this blanket, factory-made way of living. People on this Earth live the same way. Everybody gets their food the same way, through industrial agriculture.”

Speaking of sustenance, Hurley is very careful of what he puts into his body. His discipline off the drum riser, including at least an hour of stretches and up to eight separate sticking exercises before each show, account for his stamina while on it. “I think living a clean lifestyle, being straight-edge and vegan, I think that helps. And the fact that I work out every day, because you can be vegan and still eat potato chips all day.”

Fifteen Seconds. As of press time, all the videos are in the can, including the one for “I Don’t Care,” which, like Infinity On High’s award-winning “This Isn’t A Scene, It’s An Arms Race,” was directed by Australian hot shot Alan Ferguson. Hurley makes a point of saying the vid debuted on iTunes because MTV is no longer in the music video business. Now VH1 has just put it into rotation, a network where the band didn’t previously have a lot of adds. Call it just rewards for the soul-destroying process of making music videos.

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“It’s exactly like lip-synching for drums,” says Hurley, recalling the long days on set. “I have pads to deaden the heads and cymbals that are sliced in the middle – basically two cymbals on top of each other but Sabian makes them specific, so they’re just dead cymbals. So actually I play the parts with full energy and full volume, it just doesn’t make noise.”

While not a multi-instrumentalist in any sense, the drummer was struggling to learn guitar over the summer because the band had tentative plans to do a series of Unplugged-style acoustic sets. More critical for Hurley during the recording of Folie, was to make a contribution beyond his drum parts.

“I tried to play the lead part in a song, but I remember I just couldn’t get it and we needed to get it done that day so it never happened,” he recalls, sounding like a wide-eyed kid. “I wanted to play just one lead line, like, not the whole thing, just one in the song so every time I heard it I could be, ’Oh, that was me.’”

Groove Analysis

“I Don’t Care”
The first single off Folie À Deux is “I Don’t Care,” a 12/8 anthemic rocker. Andrew Hurley opens with a tasty fill that places tom accents on the ah of 2, 3, and 4. He plays a shuffle on his toms over pounding bass drum quarter-notes and snare backbeats. He plays a similar pattern at the chorus, only this time he rides a crash instead of the floor tom. At the bridge, he returns to the floor tom and throws in a nice little triplet embellishment at the end of each bar.

andrew hurley